Working Mothers Represent: How Children Affect the Legislative Agenda of Women in Congress

Date01 May 2019
Published date01 May 2019
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2019, Vol. 47(3) 447 –470
© The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X18808037
Working Mothers
Represent: How Children
Affect the Legislative
Agenda of Women in
Lisa A. Bryant1
and Julia Marin Hellwege2
Issues and policies pertaining to children and families are often labeled
“women’s issues” and assumed to be on the radar of all women, but we
argue that they are more salient for mothers, particularly working mothers,
than for other women. This study examines the role of motherhood as an
identity for women in Congress by looking at the introduction of bills that
affect children and families from 1973 through 2013. We define working
mothers as women who have children below 18 years of age at home
while they are in office, as opposed to those who have adult children or
no children. Our findings show that Congressional working mothers are
more likely to introduce legislation that address issues specific to parents
and children. We also find that legislation specifically dealing with children’s
health and welfare is more likely to be introduced by members with children
than those without.
Congress, women, legislation, mother, children
1California State University, Fresno, CA, USA
2University of South Dakota, Vermillion, SD, USA
Corresponding Author:
Lisa A. Bryant, California State University, Fresno, 2225 East San Ramon, Fresno, CA 93740,
808037APRXXX10.1177/1532673X18808037American Politics ResearchBryant and Marin Hellwege
448 American Politics Research 47(3)
In 2013, Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) gave birth to a daugh-
ter who was born without either of her kidneys, requiring special medical
attention. After going public with this information, Representative Herrera
Beutler reported that the experience of having to seek out medical care across
state lines for her own child, and hearing from parents going through the
same ordeal, helped shape her legislative agenda (Schwartz, 2015). The fol-
lowing year, she proposed legislation making it easier for children on
Medicaid to receive treatment across state lines if they had a complex medi-
cal condition. In an interview with Marie Claire, she stated, “I probably
would have supported (the legislation) before . . . but I wouldn’t be the one
who’s selling it” (Schwartz, 2015). Similarly, Representative Cathy McMorris
Rodgers (R-WA) is the mother of a young child with Down Syndrome. This
experience led her to form the bipartisan Congressional Down Syndrome
Caucus and cosponsor a bill called the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act
(Sylvester & Swain, 2012). In 2017, McMorris Rodgers (2017) wrote an
op-ed for the Washington Post in which she cited her child’s special medical
needs as her motivation in voting for the American Health Care Act, again
showing that her role as a parent influenced her legislative agenda. These are
examples of how motherhood is an identity that shapes the attitudes, work-
place experiences, and agenda of even the most elite working mothers, our
nation’s leaders.
There are currently 84 women serving in the House, totaling 19.3% of rep-
resentatives (Center for American Women in Politics, 2018). Although the
number of women has increased steadily over time, some have argued that the
legislative agenda of congressional women has not changed much since the
first woman was elected into the House (Foerstel & Foerstel, 1996). Female
members of Congress (MCs) introduce legislation often considered to address
“women’s issues”—issues such as equality in the workplace including sexual
harassment and the wage gap, women’s health care issues including reproduc-
tive rights and insurance coverages, and social issues such as domestic vio-
lence. Were it not for women in Congress, many of these issues may never be
part of the public discourse or legislative agenda.
Although much of the literature has relied on the concept of “women’s
issues,” arguably, several of the issues in that broad category are not necessar-
ily on the radar of all women. Policies regarding topics such as school lunch
programs, maternity leave, day care costs, and children’s health insurance are
far from the minds of many women; however, mothers with young children
deal with these issues on a regular basis. Given that legislators with minor
children are more likely to have recent experience with these issues, they may
also be more likely to introduce bills addressing policies that directly impact
families and working mothers. Our study makes a contribution to the literature

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT